How It All Started
"I fell in love with vintage exotics by accident, after literally stumbling across a gorgeous Lucille de Paris alligator purse at the Antiques at Pike Place store in downtown Seattle. The beauty of its skins, the elegance of its design, and its meticulous, old craftsmanship had taken my breath away, literally. I thought I'd found a perfect example of ultimate creative harmony achieved between nature and man. A natural material turned by a skilled artisan into wearable art! A practical luxury object adored by millions of fashionistas around the world not only as a corner of her intimate world, but also as a status symbol! In my eyes, it was also a piece of history to wear, equally beautiful and important as a research subject.
I started buying and selling vintage exotics back in 1999, and also studying and researching them, and amassing the collection initially without any intention to write a book. But my customers were asking questions, and with hundreds of research files accumulated in my computer and many dozens of old Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazines piled around -- my main research source -- I decided it was about time to put it all together. The research of the collection was completed by 2004-2005, the manuscript was finished in 2006, and the book was submitted to the publisher in 2007, and published in 2010. That's how this long-needed encyclopedia on the history of upscale vintage exotics was born. I loved every minute of this rewarding and creative experience, and, ultimately, it is my hope that you will also enjoy the book, the collection, and the history itself."
Illustration and photography are by Zack Davidov, graphic design by Nina Passalaqua
About The Collection
The Victoria Stowe Collection is a virtual luxury handbag archive representing the only known archival record of American mid-century designer brands.
Visit the Designer Hall to marvel at unique, one-of-a-kind creations handcrafted by top vintage designer labels no longer in operation. Most of the presented handbags are irreplaceable and impossible to find for any money.
Check out the Vogue and Harper's Bazaar period fashion ads to trace their evolution starting from the 19th century. Learn about the incredibly creative period of the 1940s-1960s, when the American handbag industry went avant-guarde under the leadership of the National Authority for the Ladies' Handbag Industry (NALHI).
After World War II, many talented designers and craftsmen had immigrated to the U.S. from Europe in search of creative freedom. It was the time when exotic skin handbags, previously accessible only by the European elites as ultimate status symbols, had been brought mainstream in the U.S.
The American luxury brands of Judith Leiber and Lucille de Paris were selling their handbags at Saks Fifth Avenue right next to the iconic Hermes of France. And, the motto of the 1950s, “More taste than money,” had obviously prevailed. The vibrant mid-century mode had created a new trend in fashion: individuality.
That is exactly what this collection is all about: uniqueness, rarity, individuality, and superb old-world craftsmanship. And, above all, it is about the style that cannot be replicated by today's cookie-cutter, mass-produced fast-fashion.
This authentic collection has been created for savvy fashionistas, who value individuality and exclusivity above the brands that have been so heavily counterfeited.
It is also about the vintage culture that recycles ideas, styles, designs, and objects – go green, go vintage! After spending over a decade working on this collection, which has become the foundation of my published collector's guide and fashion encyclopedia, "Exotic Skin Handbags: Alligator and Crocodile," it is truly my hope that you would find it interesting, relevant, and important.
Ultimately, one day, I would like to see it on display for public viewing at a national museum. One day! But for now, please enjoy browsing our Virtual Museum and visit our luxury boutique, Instyle Classics.